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The R class were in fact the fourth class of Victorian locomotive to be so labelled, and were orginally planned as Pacific (4-6-2) locomotives, but were altered to a Hudson (4-6-4) in a bid to reduce axle weight. The locomotives were designed and built over a protracted period of 10 years from first design sketches in 1943 to delivery of the final locos in 1953. Several engineers had a part in its design including Rolling Stock Engineer T D Doyle, CME A C Alston, and Boiler Engineer W A Rogerson.
Originally planned to be built by the Newport Workshops, an order for 20 units was started in 1946, only to be cancelled in Jan 1950, due to length delays and setbacks in the post-war reconstruction period. The 70 units finally built were all constructed by the North British Locomotive Company of Glasgow, and forwarded by ship over the period May 1951 to Aug 1953.
In service, the R class were good engines that arrived too late. While they were introduced to Overland working in Sep 1951, they lasted only 13 months in that service, and were replaced on all express main-line passenger service by the new B class diesel electrics by Mar 1953, before the last of the class had even been delivered. Consequently, most of the class spent most of their useful working lines in goods service.
Scrapping of the class started as little as ten years into the life of some engines. Apart from the preserved locos, they were all gone by 1970, and the last to be scrapped was R730 on 13 Oct 1969.
7 of the class have been preserved. 704 (notable as the engine which was displayed at the Festival of Britain in 1951) is statically preserved at the Williamstown Railway Museum, but the others all may see active service. At the time of writing, R707, R711, R761 and R766 are operational, while R700 and R753 are in storage.
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